The Ulrich Museum at Wichita State University in Kansas has acquired a collection of fine art photographs taken by Kansas-born artist Gordon Parks. Wichita State University earlier obtained a large collection of papers, letters, documents, and manuscripts that belong to Parks.
A native of Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks, the youngest of 15 children, spent his formative years in the Minneapolis area. As a young teen he left home and got a job playing piano at a brothel. He later worked as a waiter and a Pullman porter. On one train trip he bought a small camera for $12.50 and soon began doing fashion photography shoots for a chic Minneapolis boutique.
After World War II Parks moved to New York and he began a long career as a magazine photographer. His first assignments were for Vogue and then he became the first African American staff photographer for Life magazine where he took on many assignments dealing with the civil rights movement.
Parks published his first novel, The Learning Tree, in 1963. Six years later, Parks produced and directed a movie based on his book. He later directed Shaft and three other feature films. Parks died in 2006.
The new acquisitions at Wichita State University include photographs of Malcolm X, pictures of Parks’ home town, and shots from “Harlem Gang Leader,” his first photographic essay for Life.